Recently I watched the film Bobby (read about it here) for a second time. It is a moving but very personal, low-key take on the events of 5 June 1968. For anyone who doesn’t know, this week marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. At the time, I had just turned 18. “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now,” sang Bob Dylan.
It was my last year at Stogs and, though I didn’t realize until much later, the year in which I first began thinking for myself and making my own decisions (not necessarily the right ones, of course). I was very interested in politics and in the Kennedys. Like nearly all people of my generation, I remember exactly where I was when I heard that JFK had been killed (aged 13, I was delivering newspapers on a cold, dark winter’s evening in the flats just behind the ones where we lived).
After Dallas, the killing continued. Malcolm X (see here) was murdered in 1965 and Martin Luther King just a month before RFK. The anti-Vietnam War movement operated parallel to the civil rights struggle in the second half of the 1960s and in Britain the protests peaked in 1968. I went on the biggest protest march to the US Embassy in London, with a Spanish friend who had had to flee his homeland because he was involved in anti-Franco protests.
May 1968 was the year of protests worldwide (see here). Perhaps the most famous, the student riots in Paris eventually led to the collapse of the old regime in France headed by Charles de Gaulle. It was heady stuff. If 1967 had been The Summer of Love (sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll), 1968 was the year when many people were sure the world was about to change dramatically, and for the better.
Developments in America were key. And with the prospect of RFK in The White House, optimism abounded. Instead, he was killed and his antithesis, Richard Nixon, became President. There is a conspiracy website here for those interested in such things. Personally, I don’t believe the series of assassinations were simply random acts of murder. I was shocked to learn recently that Harold Wilson (British socialist Prime Minister from 1964-70 and 1974-76) claimed that there was even an attempt to organize a coup in Britain in May 1968.
Given my world view, over the years I have come to feel that the prospects of real change ended with the death of Bobby Kennedy . A few weeks ago I received the following comments from an American friend that mirror my own sentiments:
“I have long believed that the dream ended on June 5, 1968. Little since then has given me reason/hope to believe otherwise. Our 1960’s generation has, obviously, been a huge disappointment, with the world turning into more of the same. Look at where we are. And where, idealistically, we’d hoped to be. And its all some of the same people. They just decided to take another fork in the road than they might have. And who knows how life would have been different had those giants not been killed and those forks in the road not been taken.”
I don’t believe anyone at the time sensed that things were destined to go completely in the opposite direction. The tide of change seemed unstoppable. With hindsight, however, it is clear that the flame had been extinguished.
In Britain, the class struggle continued throughout the 1970s, at times becoming desperate. There were strikes, protests and economic crises until Mrs. Thatcher eventually came to power. She won the large parliamentary majority she needed to implement her policies off the back of her jingoistic victory in the Falklands War. She then proceeded to bring the trade unions to their knees and sell off the country’s state-owned assets to the giant corporations. “Greed is good” became the mantra of the 1980s.
There are a lot of videos related to RFK on YouTube. I find Ted Kennedy’s eulogy at Bobby’s funeral particularly moving (go here). Sadly – almost eerily – he could be talking about 2008, not 1968. The audio is accompanied by a stream of photos. The Kennedys were no saints but, in an imperfect world, they could have been a strong, positive influence for change. Instead, we have globalization, a.k.a. the concentration of wealth in ever fewer hands. A study published last year (Poverty and Wealth across Britain 1968 to 2005) found that “Britain is moving back towards levels of inequality in wealth and poverty last seen more than 40 years ago.” We are back where we started.